Like many birdwatchers I never used to look at gulls with any great interest, that is until I started writing the gull section for the Cheshire and Wirral Bird Report. Now I get remarks like - "who is the saddo who counted all those gulls which are on your website?" - and I have to admit, shamefully, it was me. But recently our little Dee Estuary 'colour ring group' have come to realise that a fair number of these gulls are colour-ringed so I am now motivated to do something even more 'sad' which is to scan through the gull flocks looking at all their legs for rings, but it is revealing some fascinating movements for these under appreciated and misunderstood birds. We saw 18 different colour-ringed gulls in 2014, a good total in comparison to just seven in 2013 and three in 2012. So much data has been collected that I am writing two articles, one for small gulls* this month, and next month the larger gulls.
* this article doesn't include Mediterranean Gulls as I wrote about these in the July 2012 Newsletter.
Substantial numbers of Black-headed Gulls nest in Cheshire and Wirral and the total of 2,000+ pairs is the third highest for inland breeders for any county in England. It is likely it is these birds we see on the estuary post-breeding when we get a rapid build up of birds through the summer months. As well as inland in Cheshire they nest around the estuary itself and max numbers for the past 10 years are 650 pairs at Inner Marsh Farm (now part of Burton Mere Wetlands) and 300 pairs on Parkgate Marsh, although both sites have recently suffered from predation with Lesser Black-backed Gulls at the former site and foxes at the latter site seemingly being the main culprits; in 2014 the Parkgate colony appeared to have been abandoned.
The Hilbre average for 2008-12 shows a
typical year's distribution with much lower numbers present outside the
summer peak. But, as the 2013 distribution shows, we can get larger
numbers moving in at any time and many of these birds will be
immigrants from the continent. The peak in February 2013 was part of a
larger number along north Wirral, probably 30,000 gulls in total
including 8,000 Black-headed on Hoylake shore on Feb 9th. Big numbers
are seen at roost sites in Cheshire with 8,000 on Rostherne Mere being
typical, but two counts of c20,000 on the north shore of
Mersey Estuary during the winter of 2011/12 were
The map shows the origins of ringed
Gulls found on the Dee Estuary and North Wirral since 2010, five were
colour ringed and three had a metal ring one of which was found dead
and two where the details were read from photographs. It very much
reflects the map in the BTO Migration Atlas which shows the majority of
ringed birds found in north-west England coming from Scandinavia and
the Baltic whilst Black-headed Gulls ringed in the 'Benelux' countries
and France tend to end up in the southern half of the UK.
Details of the birds as follows:
1. Black line - Blue ring with white code 2C93.
Ringed as a chick on Killington Reservoir, Cumbria, on June 11th 2012.
Recorded on East Hoyle Bank on Sept 17th 2014.
2. White line - White ring with black code J1CR.
Ringed as an adult in Stavanger, Norway, on July 10th 2012.
Recorded at West Kirby in the winters of 2012/13 and 2013/14 and back in Stavanger in the breeding season in 2013 and 2014.
3. Green line - White ring with black code J40K.
Ringed as an adult in Kristiansand, Norway, on March 11th 2004.
Recorded at New Brighton in 2005, 2006, 2013 and 2014 and at West Kirby in 2005.
4. Yellow line - metal ring ST197057.
Ringed as a chick at Uusikaupunki, Finland, on June 26th 2000.
Found dead at Hoylake on Dec 22nd 2012.
5. Red line - metal ring ST223406.
Ringed as an adult near Helsinki, Finland, on April 16th 2005.
Recorded at New Brighton on July 11th 2010.
6. Blue line - metal ring 6400026.
Ringed as a second year bird near Malmo, Sweden, on June 14th 2001.
Recorded at West Kirby on Sept 30th 2013.
7. Orange line - white ring with black code P475.
Ringed as adult at Klaipeda-Siaure, Lithuania, on April 28th 2010.
Recorded in Lithuania in 2011 and 2012, at Knott End-on-sea, Lancs, and Seaforth, Lancs, in 2011, and at New Brighton in 2012 and 2013.
8. Brown line - white ring with code TMEN.
Ringed as adult at Lodz, Poland, on April 12th 2013.
Recorded at West Kirby on many dates from Sept 9th 2013 and Jan 18th 2014, and from July 7th 2014 to the end of 2014.
Common Gulls don't breed in our area, and despite being called 'Common' they are a lot less numerous than Black-headed Gulls although they occupy similar habitats being seen with other gulls paddling for worms in fields and roosting on sand banks. They are normally recorded in 'tens' rather than hundreds or thousands but 2013 seem to have been a good year for them and there were 3,500 on Hoylake Shore in February with 2,500 there in March. Good numbers can be found inland and there were 2,500 on the Dee flood meadows up river from Chester on Feb 7th 2013.
Although decreasing due to ground predation breeding Common Gulls are fairly widespread in the north and west of Scotland and three of our four colour-ringed birds have come from there. Four is a very small sample, of course, but it is interesting that it does reflect the maps in the BTO Migration Atlas which show many Scottish breeding birds heading south and south-west to the west coast of England whilst the many continental immigrants are found mainly on the east coast.
Details of the birds as follows:
1. White line - Yellow ring with black
Ringed as as an adult at Monamore, Isle of Arran, on July 16th 2014.
Recorded at Hoylake on Nov 8th 2014.
This was the first report of an Arran ringed Common Gull for this project which started in 2014.
2. Green line - Orange ring with black code 2XIC.
Ringed as a chick at Tillypronie, Aberdeenshire, on June 30th 2012.
Recorded at East Hoyle Bank on Sept 27th 2014.
3. Red line - Orange ring with black
Ringed as an adult in Aldi car park, Westhill, Aberdeen, on June 21st 2013.
Recorded in Wallasey in Aug and Sept 2014.
Ringed as chick near Stavanger, Norway,
on July 2nd 2014.
Recorded on Hoylake shore on Nov 10th 2014.
2. BTO Migration Atlas, 2002.3. D. Norman, Birds in Cheshire and Wirral (2004 to 2007 Atlas), CAWOS.
7. Those who have sent colour-ring records and photographs direct to Matt Thomas and myself including: Colin Schofield, Charles Farnell, Manu Santa-Cruz, Rob Bithell, Richard Steel, Les Hall, Steve Williams, Colin Jones, Kenny McNiffe and Alan Hitchmough.
8. The BTO (www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/ringing/ringing-scheme).9. The ringers and ringing groups who very kindly sent details of the birds we have seen including those from: Kane Brides in Cumbria, The Norway Colour Ringing group, the Polish Ringing Centre, the Grampian Ringing Group, the Severn Estuary Gull Group and the group from the Isle of Arran.
At last I have some good news regarding Red Rocks.
The much delayed consultation process was completed on December 1st and you can see our detailed response to the Cheshire and Wildlife Trust's draft management plan here:Feedback on CWT's draft management plan from the 'Red Rocks Naturalists Group'.
Thanks to all who contributed to this
document, particularly Jane
Turner who wrote most of it and whose knowledge of Red Rocks is simply
breathtaking! You will see it has an impressive list of signatories.
As a result of this and other feedback we had a meeting with CWT's Conservation Officer on December 19th, 'we' being representatives from the Red Rocks Naturalists, Dee Estuary Conservation Group, Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens, Hilbre Bird Observatory, Wirral Wildlife and RSPB Dee Estuary. It was a constructive and positive meeting and I think we all felt that we at long last had somebody from CWT who not only listened to our concerns but fully understood what we were saying and was also very sympathetic to the points we were making.
At this stage I cannot go into further details as I don't want to prejudice the next stage of the process which will be CWT's talks with Natural England. I wish them luck!
A good mix of weather which
included some calm
days early in the month which produced a mirror like sea, ideal for
counting birds and we had 230 Great Crested Grebes and 2,600
Common Scoter off Meols on the 4th, more unexpectedly were at least 10
Long-tailed Ducks off there two days later together with a Velvet
Scoter. Three Black-necked Grebes on Shotwick Lake at the end of the
month was an excellent record.
21st January, 11.28hrs (GMT), 9.9m.
22nd January, 12.14hrs (GMT), 10.1m.
23rd January, 13.00hrs (GMT), 10.1m.
24th January, 13.46hrs (GMT), 9.9m.
Organised by the Wirral
Ranger Service , Flintshire
Countryside Service and the
RSPB (Dee Estuary):
All these events and walks have bird interest, even those not advertised specifically for birdwatching. No need to book for these events unless specified - please check below.
Also see 2015 Events Diary.